Documenting America's Swedish Immigrants

Among the many stories included in this book is one that describes a visit to a farm in Meadows, Manitoba, Canada to meet a group of people who had lived in Gammalsvenskby, Ukraine. Their ancestors had left Sweden in 1470 for Dagö outside Estonia's coast, where they lived as free, land-owning farm owners. About three hundred years later, one thousand descendants, young and old, were forced to relocate to Ukraine. They walked 1,200 miles to an area near Cherson, Ukraine, where they settled on farms. After the Russian revolution, they once again found themselves in a difficult situation. Sweden raised funds to bring them "home." Some stayed, while others immigrated to Canada, where they could obtain larger farms. One of them told their story to Lennart Setterdahl, who recorded it on tape. Those who stayed in Ukraine still live in the Cherson region where the settlement, Gammalsvenskby, finds itself in the middle of a war. See also articles in the paper Nordstjernan, New York, October 15 and November 15, 2022.

The cover picture shows Lennart microfilming an old Swedish-language newspaper, Nya Werlden (The New World).

Documenting America's Swedish Immigrants: Lennart Setterdahl's Life and Work was published by Swedish American Museum, Chicago, in 2019, for the exhibit "Documenting Swedish America: A Setterdahl Family Tradition, funded in part by the MacArthur Foundation.

Description: This book highlights 35 years of travel in North America to microfilm historical records and tape personal memories of Swedish immigrants and their descendants, an accomplishment that has greatly benefited genealogical researchers. The work necessitated traveling by car through every state in the continental United States and some Canadian provinces.

The author presents a colorful story of her family’s traveling experiences, tribulations, and rewards as it became necessary for the three-children-immigrant family to adjust and pull together to achieve extraordinary results.

Of the thousands of Swedish Americans whom the Setterdahls met during their travels, the author sketches vignettes of more than one hundred individuals.

In 1990, Lennart Setterdahl was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Gothenburg for his extraordinary efforts to preserve the history of Swedish Americans.

In 2019, Lennart Setterdahl’s memory was honored with an exhibit at the Swedish-American Museum in Chicago.

Among his achievements:

1) The inventorying and microfilming of about 2,000 Swedish-American church archives for the Emigrant Institute, Växjö, Sweden (available at the Swenson Center, Augustana College, Rock Island in its entirety. Name and data available on

2) The recording of ca. 3,000 interviews with Swedish Americans across the land. A large portion is housed at the Vasa Archives in Bishop Hill.

Review of Documenting America’s Swedish Immigrants

Again, our own Vasa member and author Lilly Setterdahl has finished and released a new book, “Documenting America’s Swedish Immigrants: Lennart Setterdahl’s Life and Work.” As fascinating it is to learn about Lennart’s life and passion for Swedish immigrants, it is equally amazing to see the support Lilly gave him. They were married for a long time, even though Lennart’s life was cut short due to illness. In the pages of this new book, you get to know the Setterdahl family, the story of their emigration from Sweden, and their passion to connect with Swedes and their families all over the U.S. and even in Australia. Not to mention all their trips back to Sweden. There are so many interesting road trips, mostly in their Swedish-made cars, with or without a camper, the enormous lugging of heavy documentation apparatus, and extremely long hours, no matter what day of the week it was. It’s heartwarming to learn about all the sightseeing they fit into their schedule and to get to know their three children and the experiences they got out of their parents’ hunger for immigration stories, nature, and culture. One thing that amazed me was the abundance of people they kept referring to—many very colorful—how do you remember all of them? Obviously, it’s all in the perfect and tedious documentation and inventory they kept. And Lilly did so much of this, while Lennart did most of the interviewing. Fortunately, there were some awards and recognition for Lennart’s life’s work, 1959-1995. As an immigrant myself with roots in Sweden, I found it so interesting every time I came across a name or city that I know very well. The same goes for all the places in the U.S. –thank you, Lilly, for taking me along on all your trips. This book was published by the Swedish American Museum in Chicago and can be purchased through the museum at Paper $15.95. Reviewed by Liza Ekstrand. Nordstjernan/Vasa Star, Spring 2020, No. 8.